5 Myths About the Role of HR

5 Myths About the Role of Human Resources

Listen to any conversation between disgruntled coworkers and one of them will threaten to take the matter to human resources. Sometimes that’s the appropriate route; sometimes it isn’t: but such is the culture of misunderstanding about the role of HR. In many workplaces employees – and even business owners – can find themselves confused. We decided to take a look at 5 of the more common misunderstandings about HR.

1. HR is just for hiring and firing

The myth

The job of the human resources department begins with the placing of a recruitment ad and ends with the dismissal process – with nothing in between. Right?

The reality

Wrong! In the best workplaces, the HR department will be involved all the way through a person’s career. They will implement performance reviews (and disciplinary proceedings where necessary), offering support and guidance. HR managers also work on resolving disputes and grievances. Not to mention working behind the scenes to develop and monitor the policies and procedures that help the business function.

This is important because…

It is perhaps understandable if the head of a company or department only notices HR when he or she has to interact with them. Such as when interviewing new candidates, or when a problem crops up with an employee’s performance. However, what a human resources department does behind the scenes is vital to preventing problems that may crop up in the future.

2. What happens in HR stays in HR

The myth

There’s an unfortunate tendency on the part of both employers and employees to regard HR as something between a confessional and the secret service. They act as though nothing one says to an HR professional – whether it’s “Bill in Accounts keeps falling asleep at his desk” or “We don’t want to interview any women for this job” – will ever be heard outside the four walls of their office.

The reality

HR are not bound to confidentiality – quite the reverse, in fact. So if you tell your friendly local human resources professional that there’s something dodgy going on in your workplace – or, even worse, if you ask her to do something dodgy herself – don’t expect it to stay between the two of you.

This is important because…

HR departments are obliged to work for the best interests of both the employer and the employee – and that obligation includes reporting anything that goes against those interests, particularly if it contravenes employment law.

HR Manager Mediating
HR can help with mediating disputes between employees and/or upper management, but it is not a complaints department

3. HR is the complaints department

The myth

This myth is related to #2: Specifically, some employees use the human resources department as a safe place to vent about their boss, their coworkers or an unfair working practice or policy.

The reality

Just as human resources professionals cannot guarantee to keep what you tell them confidential, they also cannot provide a listening ear without taking action. Instead, they will encourage employees to bring forward a formal complaint – while reassuring them their right to do so is protected under federal law.

This is important because…

The law protects employees by giving them the right to make a legitimate complaint about work – and it also protects them by giving their HR department a responsibility to take action on that claim. If you tell HR that something is not right, they’re going to want to investigate.

4. HR works for the company – not for the employees

The myth

Let’s say you have a problem with a coworker who is behaving inappropriately, and you’re considering taking the matter to human resources – but then you run into The Cynic. There’s one in just about every workplace. The Cynic says “Why bother going to HR? They’ve got the company’s interests in mind, not yours! They don’t care about your problems unless you have grounds to sue!”

The reality

The human resources department is fully aware of your rights under the law and of how you should be treated at work – and yes, they’re conscious of the options you have if you are not being treated fairly and in accordance with those rights. If you make a legitimate, formal complaint about the behavior of a coworker – for example – HR has a legal responsibility to protect both you and your employer by investigating this complaint thoroughly.

This is important because…

The role of HR is to balance the rights of the employee with the interests of the employer. While it’s obviously true that the human resources department wants to protect the employer from litigation and other forms of legal or financial trouble, the best way to do this is almost always to ensure that the employer is complying with the relevant legislation – which means treating the employee in accordance with their rights.

Employees meeting with management
HR can help ensure employees are being compensated fairly, but it is not responsible for negotiating pay.

5. Employees should use HR to negotiate pay

The myth

When it comes to discretionary workplace issues such as whether an employee is due a raise, or how much severance they should receive, it makes sense to get HR involved, or at least ask them for some hints – right?

The reality

Wrong again! The HR department can’t weigh in on discretionary matters relating to pay – although if you have a specific complaint about being paid unfairly, then they will of course investigate. They will also be involved in reviewing equal pay and developing advancement and remuneration policies – so they’ll be able to tell you where you stand according to those policies, but no more.

This is important because…

The human resources department can’t divulge details of how one employee is paid to another employee – and if you go to them and say “Hey, I’m not sure if I got enough severance – how much did Myrtle get?” then that’s exactly what you’re asking them to do.


HR is a vital resource and ally in the workplace for both employers and employees – now that you’re armed with a better understanding of what they can and can’t do for you, you’ll be able to get the best out of HR.


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